Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Yo-Yo Summer

(Or: There and back again. And there and back again.  And there and back again…)

This summer has been one of those seasons in life when everything seems to happen at once.  They were all good things—wonderful things, in fact—but they did all happen at once, or at least one on the heels of the other.  So for those of my friends who have been wondering why they can never find me these days, this is what I’ve been up to for the past month.

In early June, I had the great privilege of attending the ordination of a dear friend to the priesthood.  The ordination was in New York, so I took a weekend trip from Virginia to celebrate this incredible milestone in my friend’s life.  I don’t have any pictures from this adventure: it seemed the wrong sort of occasion to be snapping photos on my phone!
(This is actually the River Avon.)
The week after that, I drove out to South Dakota with my father for a family reunion.  Aside from seeing my grandfather and aunts and uncles for the first time in a decade, I also played my first hole of golf (neither whiffing nor losing the ball—I consider this a success) and took a day trip to the Badlands.

If you have never seen the Badlands, you really should go if you have the chance.  You’re driving along a perfectly unremarkable stretch of prairie...
...(perhaps stopping to feed peanuts to the prairie dogs)... turn a corner, and suddenly you’re in this sci-fi landscape of bizarre red formations like giant termite mounds. 
It stretches for miles and miles—how the Native Americans and the settlers ever dared to traverse it is beyond my imagination.

And, of course, if you’re in the area, you’re obliged to stop by Wall Drug, the signs for which you’ve been seeing on the highway for at least three hundred miles.

Leaving my dad in South Dakota, I flew back to DC and the very next day flew out to Reykjavik for a week of research.  But what’s a research trip without a day tour?  My friend and I took a break from the books for an excursion to Landmannalaugur, a geothermal area on the edge of Iceland’s vast uninhabited Interior.

This area is just as incredible as the Badlands, and in some ways resembles it.  Only instead of driving through prairie, you’re bouncing crazily on unpaved roads through the lava fields...

...when suddenly you splash through a river and come upon this camp full of tourists in a valley surrounded by mountains.

You get out of the truck, get your bones back in order, and start on a short hike.  In the course of what can’t be much more than a mile, you walk across sheets of snow and ice along the banks of the river…

…passing piles of gleaming obsidian stone…

…you pause for breath of sulphurous air on a steaming Martian hillside…


…you walk through another lava field…

…and you come out, suddenly, onto a plush green meadow filled with buttercups, where all those tourists you saw earlier are bathing in a geothermal spring.

Then, of course, you go make friends with the horses from the local riding tour.

Our tour guide took us the long way back so that we could stop at the foot of Hekla, one of the most violent volcanoes in Iceland.  It used to erupt every ten years—it stopped doing so twenty years ago.  But the lava pack underneath it is still pushing its summit higher and higher every year, so it’s just a matter of time.  The tour guide kept saying that he wished it would erupt, and we all kept thinking, “Not until we get back to Reykjavik, please!”

After my Iceland adventure, my parents met me in Keflavik and we flew together to England for my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding blessing.  Again, I don’t have pictures from this event because it really is my sister’s show and I don’t want to steal her thunder.  I will, however, say that the happy couple were glowing and my parents looked very classy in the clothes they had to borrow for the ceremony because their bags were lost coming from Iceland!  (They caught up with us two days later.)

With my sister and brother-in-law on their way to their overdue honeymoon, my parents and I ventured off to Stratford on Avon, where we saw Shakespeare’s birthplace…

…his wife Anne Hathaway’s cottage…

…and his mother Mary Arden’s farm.  At the farm, we saw a falconry demonstration, which wasn’t actually a falconry demo at all, as the avian star was a barn owl named Millie.  I remember her name because, since it was the end of the day and there were no kids in the audience, the handler picked me to be his “apprentice” and let me hold her on a borrowed glove! 

It was an amazing experience—they really should let more grown-ups try things like this, because we all have hearts for wonder if given half a chance!

The next day it was off to Oxford, where we visited Christ Church and all the terrifically beautiful Oxfordian environs.  (I’ve posted about Oxford before, so I won’t tax my readers a second time.)

The gate into Christ Church that tourists AREN'T allowed to use.
The stairway to the Hall (where, as we all know, Professor McGonagall welcomed Harry Potter and the other first years to Hogwarts)
The last full day in England, we went to Croughton, where I was born.  It’s a charming little village with one main street, one pub, and no grocery store. 

This is the house where I first lived:

The best part of visiting Croughton again was seeing my parents reminisce about living there.  It had changed, as all places do, but it was reassuring, in a way, that it hadn’t lost its village-y feel.  I mean, there was a horse pasture half a block from the street where we used to live!

But as wonderful as travel is, all journeys come to an end, and the next day saw us flying home to DC.  Thus ends the yo-yo part of my summer; I hardly count the two-hour trip between DC and Charlottesville, which I have made several times already this summer and will make several times more before I finally head back to South Carolina.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience all these wonderful corners of the world, and I hope I’ll have more travels to report on next summer (though perhaps without quite so much yo-yoing?).  After all, sleep when you’re dead, right?

The road goes ever on and on...